A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

the road to Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 19, 2008

Last week, Moose commented on my post about watching Tripoli with:

What amazes the Moose is that life goes on as usual in Beirut as if Tripoli was on the other side of the world.

Tantalus pointed out that Lebanon has a long history of compartmentalizing, noting that from Gemmayzeh to Batroun, the 2006 war did little to dampen the spirits of nightlife-lovers.

Tantalus is right, although he puts a stronger spin on the partying by calling it “denial”. But there’s also something to what Moose said – something I’ve been mulling over for a few months now.

If I said that Beirut is the driver for Lebanon, I imagine that many people would agree with me. Beirut is not only the governmental capital, but also the center of commerce, education, and finance – not to mention the ‘headquarters’ for several religious sects.

Beirut’s centrality has made it the engaging city (and major draw) that it is, but it has also had serious drawbacks for the rest of the country. Before the Civil War, government figures’ and corporate heads’ tendency to focus exclusively on the capital meant that the rest of the country received very little in the way of commercial, educational or even infrastructural build-up.

And disparities between Beirut and the rest of the country are visible today – in the number of hours per day of electricity cuts; in the quality of the roads (not that Beirut doesn’t have numerous potholes, but they don’t dominate the roads as in some parts of the country, north and south); and in the relentless concentration of finance, commerce and other corporate headquarters there and nowhere else.

For the past forty-odd years, scholars have followed Albert Hourani in diagnosing Lebanon as an almost city-state: a state run much on the model of the city-states of ancient Greece or medieval Italy. This sounds good on the surface – after all, Athens and Venice were each major success stories in their day.

But in both cases, territories and people outside Athens and Venice were expected to contribute to the well-being of the city. Resources and revenues were not allocated equitably, because in the city-state model, only the city really matters.

Hence when there were bombs in Beirut in May and June 2007, it was a national catastrophe. When there was shooting on the streets this May, it was seen as a mini-civil war, and a portent of the possibility of much larger disaster.

But when there are bombs in Tripoli, or even a mini-war, it is merely a matter of concern – a news item, but not an existential threat to either Lebanon in toto or people’s individual lives. The government continues to (dys) function; the finance, commercial and services sector all hum along; and the much-celebrated summer season continues.

Well, continues for now. I don’t think the city-state model helped Lebanon in the past, and I don’t think it aids it now. Tripoli to me seems to need much more attention than it is receiving, and much more consistent direction than actions like:

7:18pm VOL: The Lebanese army removed the barbed wire erected between Bab el-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen districts in Tripoli.

1:15pm The Lebanese army erected a barbed wire between Baal al-Darawish, which straddles Bab al-Tabbaneh, and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods to stop security breaches.

suggest (thank you, Naharnet, for those intriguing updates).

Below are a few photos I took on the road up to Tripoli – the new road.

Its exponentially less built up in terms of advertising and shops than any road entering Beirut:

And the first sign of impending urbanization is not billboards but massive industrial complexes on both sides of the highway. This one is on the right:

And this one is on the left, a bit further down:

And when it comes to regulation (labor, environment, restrictions on stripping of natural resources via mining, etc.), “Rome is far away”.

Or, as the city-state model might say:

out of sight, out of mind.

2 Responses to “the road to Tripoli”

  1. Dear Diamond,

    I suggest that you read the Irfed report that was issued in the early 60’s, I have the orignal report in Arabic and French versions since my father was the Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Beirut before the war. Most of the development was concentrated in Beirut and Mount-Lebanon. The report did predict chaos if thinks continued like there were. President Fouad Chehab tried to do some reform; however, he was opposed by feudal leaders. And we paid a heavy price for decades of neglect and corruption…

  2. Moose said

    Lebanon will not change as long as it is governed by sectarian politics. Bureaucrats are promoted in accordance with the god they pray to resulting in the poor administration of all Ministries. They have examples they could follow but they are all for naught. Liban-Post, when govt owned and administered, was in shambles. It has been semi-privatized and is now a model of good workmanship. There are other good examples…Go figure!

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